1st Canto of Dante’s Inferno

In the middle of our life’s way I found I
was in a shady forest because the
right road was confusedly lost. Oh my,

so difficult a thing it is to speak
what it was, that savage and harsh and hard
wood, that thinking of it renews fearful streak!

So bitter is it that death is yet far
less sweet; but to go over the good I dis-
covered there, I’ll tell of th’ other things I saw.

I don’t know how to recount the way which
I came in there, I was so full of sleep at
that point I left the truthful way amiss.

But when I was at the foot of a great
hill, where that valley which had overwhelmed
my heart with fear did make its end, on that

height I looked and saw its shoulders attired
already in rays of the planet which guides
other people along all highways, road.

The fear was calmed a little bit at this,
so that I lasted in the heart’s lake through
it, the night I spent in such pitiful pains.

And as one with life’s breath under stress, who
gets out of the depths and ashore, turns to the
dangerous water and looks intently into

it, so did my mind, while still breaking free,
turn back to marvel once more at the pass-
age way no person has yet left living.

Then with body rested a bit, my path
I did resume through the deserted climb, so
that the firm foot always was the lowest stand.

And see, as though about to start down the slope,
a sleek and very swift leopard, which was
covered by spot-stained skin; & it didn’t go

to get out of my face: actually, because
it so obstructed my walking way, I
was turned by returning more times faced. As

the time was at outset of morning, and high
the sun climbed on up with those stars which were
with it when divine love first set these fine

things into motion, so I had reason for
right goodly hope about that beast in the
motley skin at which point in time, & the hour

of the sweet spring; but it was not by means
such that fear failed to give me the glimpse
that appeared to me, a lion’s sight. It seemed

to be this that was coming after me, its
head held high, and with ravenous hunger,
so that it seemed th’ air was trembling for it.

And a wolf that seemed loaded down with all
cravings in her leanness, and which still yet has
made many people live wretched lives, for

this she-wolf offered me so much heaviness
in terror I got right out of its sight,
as I lost the hope of the peak on high’s

tip. And like he who gets that which he buys
willingly, and the time comes which makes him lose
face — that in all thoughts weeps and mourns, just like

so did that creature make me feel no peace, whose
coming toward me little by little put
me back there, where the sun’s quiet shade ensues.

While I was fleeing to a low-down spot,
one who seemed hardly perceptible, from long-stand-
ing silence, was offered up to my eyesight.

When I saw this fellow in the waste land,
“Pity me,” I shouted at him, “whoever
you may be, whether ghost or some certain man!”

He responded to me: “Not man, before
I was once a man — and my family, from
Lombardy, both parents were Mantuan for

homeland. I was born in Julius Caesar’s time,
though later, and lived under great Augustus
at Rome, in th’ age of fake and lying gods. I

was a poet, and sang of Anchises’s just
son who came from Ilium, when arrogant Troy
burned to cinders. But why do you return thus

to such tedious anxiety? So why
aren’t you scaling the delightful mountain
which is origin and reason for all joy?”

“So are you that same Virgil and that fountain-
head which extend in speaking so vast a stream?”
I replied to him, my brow lined shy as shame.

“Oh you other poets’ pride and light, let the
eager study and great love, which made me pore
over your volume, test the value of me.

You are my master-teacher and my source,
you are th’ only one from whom I’ve taken
the lovely style which has brought me honor.

Look at the beast by which I am turned back; &
help me with it, you famous genius, since
she makes me, veins and heartbeat, feel shaken.”

“It’s agreed for you to take a different trip,”
he replied then as he saw me shed tears, “if
you want to make it from savage place like this;

now this beast which you cry out about, it lets
not others pass over its path, but impedes
as much as it kills; and its nature gets

so vile and wicked, that the desire’s
trembling will is ever unfulfilled — after
a meal’s greater hunger than before. Beings

that take it as spouse are many, and far
more will be still, till the greyhound arrives:
he’ll make the beast die with pain. Never

will this hound feed on earth, nor mixed alloys,
but on wisdom, love and goodness, & his
heritage will be between banner and country.

From this nation, will humble Italy — for which
the virgin Camilla, Euryalus and
Turnus, Nisus died of injuries — be saved. This

one will hunt the beast throughout every town,
until he will have sent her back to hell,
where envy first departed from. So I

think my interest is in yours and can tell
that you follow me, and your guide shall I be,
and take you from here through an eternal

place, where you will hear the despairing shouts, see
the age-old spirits in pain, how each screams
over the second death; and you’ll view the

ones who are contented in the fire, because
they hope to come, whenever it may be, to
the blessed people. Then, if your wish is

to ascend to these, there should be a soul who is
more worthy than I… I’ll leave you with her as
I depart; for that emperor who rules

above, because I was a rebel to his
law, wills not entrance into his city for
me. In all places does he rule and holds

up beyond that: there is his city or
throne on high: how fulfilled are those of true
happiness whom he elects to choose there.”

And I told him, “Poet, by that God whom
you did not know to recognize, so that
I may flee from this evil and worse, do

I ask you to lead me where you said,
in order that I might see St. Peter’s gate
and those whom you say are hopelessly sad.”

Then he got moving, & behind him I went.